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At a Glance
Product IOCELL NetDISK (351UNE)
Summary Speedy, inexpensive SATA enclosure that connects via Ethernet, USB or eSATA based on Ximeta NDAS technology.
Pros • Connects via Ethernet, USB or eSATA
• ~30 MB/s file copy in network mode
• Good price vs. performance
Cons • It just does storage, no media serving, etc.
• Linux support is beta and requires compiling

Many moons ago (September 2003, to be exact), I reviewed a storage product that advertised itself as a cheaper alternative to NAS. Ximeta's original NetDisk was an 3.5" IDE drive enclosure with USB and Ethernet ports that could either attach directly to your computer or sit on an Ethernet LAN through the magic of Ximeta's NDAS (Network Direct Attached Storage) technology.

The catch was that, unlike conventional NASes, you needed to install software on your computer to use it and write access was limited to one user at a time. When a user wanted to write to the disk, the software automatically moved write access for the drive, with only a beep to let the current owner of write privileges know that he or she was no longer in charge.

Although drivers were available for Win 93SE, ME, CE XP and 2000 as well as Mac OS X and Red Hat, multi-user write was available only to Win XP / 2000 users. NDAS mode was actually slower than USB 2.0 and its $50 or so cost premium over an equivalent capacity USB 2.0 external drive caused me to lose interest pretty quickly.

I liked the Office version that Ximeta introduced about 6 months later a bit better, noting that it had a price and performance advantage over conventional NASes of the time. But multiple user write support was still a bit odd and limited only to Windows XP and 2000 users.

Flash forward to this past summer when a press release landed in my inbox announcing an "innovative external network storage drive" that sported Ethernet, USB2.0 and eSATA ports and used Ximeta's NDAS. Although I thought I'd seen this movie before, its claims of being able to aggregate up to 8 drives into one logical spanned or RAID 0 volume and two drives into a RAID 1 array intrigued me.

So I asked for two review units with drives to see how Ximeta's technology had progressed and to check out the multi-unit claims. But it took until just a few weeks ago for one 351UNE to show up, without a drive installed. Oh well, let's see what this little guy can do anyway.

The UNE is about as tall, but slightly thinner than a typical single-drive NAS. The case is all plastic and has no cooling fan. Figure 1 shows the rear panel, which has Gigabit Ethernet, eSATA and mini-USB ports. There's also a socket for the 12V power wall-wart and a power switch. IOCELL includes cables for all three port types in the box.

Back of the UNE

Figure 1: Back of the UNE

Inside Look

Figure 2 shows the inside of the UNE, once you remove two screws and slide off the cover. It's a bit of a pain to have to remove the metal drive holder in order to insert the drive. It also seemed like you'd better not be taking out the sleeve too many times or you'll strip the plastic posts that you screw the holder down onto.

main board
NetDisk 351UNE inside

Figure 2: NetDisk 351UNE inside

Given the UNE's unusual design, I figured that I wouldn't see the usual suspects for its components and I was right. The main controller chip is a Ximeta NDAS3012GR2, which has a Gigabit Ethernet interface, can support two drives and up to 64 simultaneous users. There is no evidence of jumbo frame support in the NDAS utility, but you'll see that the UNE is pretty peppy without it.

Other components include a Jmicron JM20330 SATA 1.5 GHpb bridge, LSI ET1011C2 Gigabit Ethernet Transceiver and Initio INIC-1611 SATA USB bridge. I couldn't find any RAM or flash on the board.

Power draw isn't bad, only 15 W with a Seagate ST31000333AS Barracuda 7200.11 1 TB drive spun up. I was pleased to find there's a non-programmable idle drive spindown (seems like 15 minutes or so) that knocked power draw down to around 8 W.

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